Transforming Contact Centers with Cloud Computing

Philly311 connects citizens to city services, and makes local government more efficient. We use technology to make city government more accessible, responsive, and customer focused. In a city with 1.5 million residents, we manage a vast amount of data. Therefore, the most valuable benefit of cloud computing for our contact center is the storage space and the elastic capacity.

When there are large events, like the papal visit coming this September, or severe weather emergencies, like we experienced with Hurricane Sandy, there is a massive influx of contacts to our center. That means that we need additional storage to meet the demand those events create.

Another significant benefit to cloud computing is the ability for multiple people to access and update data from multiple locations in real time. When departments have access to the customer’s information simultaneously it improves accuracy, timeliness, and overall internal communications – all of which help the citizen have a better experience when seeking city services and municipal information.

The Role of CIOs: Standing the Test of Time

My role has evolved since I was brought on as the Executive Director of the Philly311 Contact Center in 2007. Originally, my responsibility was to launch the contact center both on time and within budget. I managed the staff and oversaw coordination with the vendor who powered our Customer Relationship Management (CRM).

Once the launch was completed, we began to develop citywide programming for both internal customers (employees of the contact center and the city as a whole) and external customers (residents, businesses, and visitors). Our goal was to improve the culture of customer service within government and to educate the community about what Philly311 does, and how they can get the most out of our service. As the responsibilities grew, I was appointed the first local Chief Customer Service Officer for the City of Philadelphia in early 2011.

In summer 2012, we created the Philly311 mobile app, which greatly increased our accessibility. I was an integral part of the planning and implementation of the mobile app. We saw a huge reward for designing the app. During Hurricane Sandy, shortly after the app was launched, the Philly311 mobile app was the 33rd most downloaded app in the iOS app store.

Most recently, I became the Executive Project Manager to oversee the transition to our new CRM solution. We needed an upgrade to better manage the increasing call volume we were experiencing as more customers became aware of and accustomed to reporting issues on our system. The new CRM allowed us to better integrate incoming data from our multiple platforms: phone, online, social media, mobile application, email, and traditional mail.

With advances in technology my roles and responsibilities shifted in response to the needs of the City and the customers. Currently, it is part of my responsibilities to come up with innovative strategies on how to best reach, engage, and service all of our customers. I will continue to incorporate cutting-edge technology into our systems and processes to ensure that we are providing outstanding customer service to all of Philadelphia’s customers.

Lessons from a Chief Service Officer

Our organization has adopted a customer-centric model. Our customers include residents, visitors, and business owners, as well as internal customers – contact center agents, city government staff and city officials. We have redesigned our general framework and operations based on the concept that the citizen is a customer. By putting our customers first we ensure that we are constantly striving to meet their needs in the most convenient, direct, efficient, and transparent way possible. This outlook has greatly impacted the entire culture of our city operations.

Because the service we provide is access to city services, every improvement we make for our customers affects their quality of life, which is a unique aspect of 311 services. By incorporating private sector methods and platforms to better our customers’ experience, we have revolutionized the way government operates. Paying attention to what private sector companies are doing, and translating those concepts into our own practices, sets us ahead of the curve for local government.

In order to truly change the culture of our organization to a customer-centric model, we had to ensure that the staff was equally as invested in the mission as we are. Making sure the staff cares about, and takes pride in our work, took both time and training. We have wide-ranging programs in place to train our staff on our robust CRM system and what it means to provide outstanding customer service every time. Our staff at 311 is always there for the citizens because they believe in our mission and they realize that each agent brings value to the organization as a whole. With comprehensive and innovative customer service training for our agents and all City employees, we work to instill a meaningful understanding of our common objective, which fosters a motivated and caring work environment.

In February 2014, we kicked off our CRM implementation and a new era of citizen engagement in Philadelphia. Like any project of this magnitude, we have experienced ups and downs. Some challenges are foreseeable, and accounted for in the beginning, and others reveal themselves throughout the process. This isn’t to say that you should spend all your time planning for the unexpected, but part of being a project executive means establishing a strategy to confront the unexpected opposed to simply reacting to them as they come along. For example, anytime a company is implementing new technology, training internal customers has to be a high priority. However, who needs to be trained, and when they need to be trained, often fluxes in relation to a number of factors. When schedules, resources, and strategies change in the process, you have to be proactive and not reactive. It helps to remain focused on your greater objective as a means to keep from being discouraged by setbacks.

Despite the inevitable challenges we’ve faced, the ultimate outcome: a transparent government that prioritizes its citizens, is what makes all of the work worthwhile. Our call center agents are driven by values of excellence, passion, engagement, and integrity, and Philly311’s overall service reflects that for the entire City of Philadelphia.